Sunday, December 21, 2014

NEW DAY, NEW SEASON

The rising sun varnished the tops of the sycamores across from the cottage this morning. Which hasn't been the case for at least the past couple of weeks with skies remained dimly, darkly, resolutely gray. I don't mind successive days of overcast, but the bright and cheerful sunlight will surely perk up and please Myladylove, a mild sufferer of seasonal affective disorder.

Of course, even during the dreariest of mornings, a jaunty old redbird can cheer things by merely appearing at your window in his flaming scarlet attire.

Today is not only our first sunny morning in a while, but the day of the winter solstice. The shortest, darkest day of the year…and the official start of winter. 

However, some of us view this latter new season business as nothing more than another failure of vacuous governmental meddling. An example of what happens when those ignorant in their grasp of what's happening, oblivious to both history and logic, and blinded by the self-perpetuated fantasy of their own importance, attempt to control by bureaucratic decree what was never their's to control in the first place, and over which their bluster and mandate have absolutely no power.

Don't get me wrong—we agree with the science of the solstice. But we're bemused how some foolishly think they can schedule in a season like they would a visit with a cash-carrying lobbyist seeking to buy votes.

Seasons keep their own schedules—coming and going as they will. So far as most of us are concerned, it's been winter hereabouts for well over a month. 

In the old days, the winter solstice would have marked midwinter. Logical, seeing as how from this point onward, daylight begins lengthening, the sun heads our way as spring's promise creeps resolutely toward becoming a fact. That makes sense. And seeing as how our journey to spring starts here, it would also make perfectly reasonable sense to start the new year here, today, with this passing of the solstice. That seems logical, keeping in tune with nature and natural events and rhythms.

But then civilization and progress are about distancing ourselves from the natural world and separating our lives from nature.
 


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A COLD DAY'S TEMPTATIONS

It was cold—9˚F (-12˚C) by the deckside thermometer—when I got up at 6:00 a.m., added a fresh log to the fire, and let Moon-the-dog out for her pre-sunrise constitutional. And though the day since proved sunny and very bright, thanks to all the snow on the ground, even now—at what would typically be midafternoon's temperature high-point—we've still barely reached 17˚F (-8˚C); not much of a warming-up.  

Frankly, I'm glad I needed to stay in and work at my desk. Inside is a good place to be. The woodstove has a nice fire burning and is pumping out heat. And if I'd somehow have managed to not be so regularly distracted, my work would now be done.

Alas, I'm a sucker for distractions.  

Sometimes I was purely bewitched by the beauty of sunlight streaming through honey-brown box elder samaras, which still cling in multitudes to the branches of riverside trees. 

Alternately, I'd find my thoughts interrupted by the gabbing and honking of Canada geese, who decided to spend the day lolling about the pool and riffle directly in front of the cottage—and my window view.
         
But worst of all has been the kettle of sausage-and-potato soup bubbling on top of the woodstove. Garlic, onions, and fresh-chopped herbs add to the fragrant meld, as everything slow-cooks toward savory perfection. A streaming pot of strong coffee, on the ledge behind, is holding just shy of a simmer, its rich aroma another note to the mix. 

Predictably, these heady cooking smells now have me positively convinced I'm on the brink of starvation. A false notion, I admit, but one I'm unwilling to ignore much longer. Not that I ever ignore good eats. Still, I had hoped to get my work finished, then take the time to bake a skillet of spicy corn bread, before succumbing.

I may not be capable of such self-discipline. 

Ah, well…it won't be the first time I've been delightfully victimized by irresistible temptation.



Monday, November 17, 2014

FIRST (STICKING) SNOW

Today's mid-morning view upstream.
When I exited the eye doc's office this past Wednesday morning, snowflakes were swirling about in the chill November sky. And they continued to fall and blow about for most of the day, waxing and waning as a series of modest squalls passed through. But they didn't stick. An all-in-the-air but none-on-the-ground event.

Technically speaking, I suppose you still have to give it credit as our first snow of 2014's autumn/winter season. However, to someone who loves the beauty of a snowy landscape, it was as unfulfilling as those tasteless red spheres the grocery stores keep insisting are actual tomatoes.

Last night, however, we got ourselves a genuine cover-the-ground-and-turn-the-world-white snow! The real thing, which piled up to a depth of perhaps four inches. And I couldn't be happier…though I know many friends and neighbors are dismayed, angered, and personally offended that the weather should presume to play such a dirty trick on them so early in the season.

I say, "Get over it! You live in Ohio, the Upper Midwest. A Great Lakes State. I look out my window and see sycamores and blue herons, not palm trees and flamingos. This is not the Deep South!"

Well, actually I don't say that, not usually…but I think it, because it's true. November snows are nothing new. Not if you've been around awhile, or read much Buckeye history. Snow is part of the package hereabouts.

A part I sincerely love. And like all loves, those which come first are special.
  

Friday, November 14, 2014

SERENDIPITOUS IMAGE

"Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop." —Ansel Adams

Let's get two things straight from the get-go: I'm certainly not implying my photographic prowess ranks me anywhere close to Ansel Adams. And I have no doubt the above eagle photo is significant only to me. 

None the less, capturing such a shot, on the stretch of river flowing directly past my modest stone cottage home, is—in my scheme of things—a momentous event. I'm thrilled to have managed such a feat, and rank the image among the dozen best I've captured over the past year.

Eagles have been a rarity throughout Ohio practically all my life. Statewide, our historic bald eagle population began dwindling long before I was born, in fact, well before WWII, starting at least from the turn of the century; and the widespread post-war usage of the pesticide DDT, with its impact on fish and wildlife such as nesting birds, proved the final devastating blow. I never saw a single wild eagle during my entire growing up, or hear a report of one being spotted. It was rumored one or two eagles still nested along the shores of Lake Erie, but here in the southern portion of the state, eagles were simply long gone. Practically mythological birds.  

It wasn't until my early-twenties that I saw my first eagle—a distinctive shape, way up in the sky, winging southward during the autumnal migration. Not much of a sighting; more a glimpse of a sky-high traveler. I spotted another migrating eagle a year or two later. Then one day a year or so after that, while deep in the genuine wilderness of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, as I fished my way down a remote, jackpine-lined  brook trout creek a few miles inland from where it dumped its tannin-stained waters into Lake Superior, a magnificent bald eagle soared overhead, so low I could almost have touched it with the tip of my fly rod. An eagle sighting truly worth mentioning!

However, several years ago, a few bald eagles began slowly moving back into the Buckeye State. Their reappearance in an area where an eagle hadn't been seen in a hundred years was such a noteworthy event it almost always got covered by local newspapers and television. A few years back, a pair of eagles finally appeared here, on my home river. They built a nest a mile or so upstream, but were unsuccessful in hatching or at least rearing any young. And to my knowledge, the nest hasn't been used since.

I have, however, since spotted eagles on several occasions at various locations, near and far, throughout this southwestern quadrant of the state. So Ohio's eagle population is obviously still on the upswing. And I couldn't be more pleased.

Still, seeing an eagle wheel over a distant lake corner, wing across a field, or disappear around a far upstream bend, isn't quite the same experience as having one come swooping in, snatch a foot-long sucker from your "front yard" pool, then sit on a rock fifty feet away for several minutes while you frantically snap it portrait. 

Now that's a thrilling Ohio eagle sighting! 

Serendipitous, too, because I just happened to be looking out the front window. And lucky, because the day was very dark and drizzly, I was shooting through the window, and had to hand hold my 300mm (effective 450mm with the crop factor) lens and shoot at 1/125 second, hoping for the best. 

That it all worked out so well is a pure wonder…and in my photographic experience, wonder doesn't come waltzing in all that often and hand you such a gift. And you know what, I'll bet Ansel Adams would say the same thing.    
         

Monday, October 27, 2014

LOOKING UPSTREAM

Every morning, when I step outside the cottage for a closer look at the river, it's generally the upstream view that first garners my attention.

Why? What prompts such preferential behavior?

After all, I have a choice—upstream or downstream. Both directions afford similar, quarter-mile stretches to scan before the stream disappears from sight around a bend. And I'd be hard pressed to choose one setting over the other as being more visually interesting—or think it any more likely to be frequented by the usual array of birds and riverine critters I such delight in watching.

Moreover, I'm already facing downstream as I exit the door, which is located on the building's side end nearest the river. Before I can gaze all the way upstream, I must first take a couple of paces to the right and swing around the corner of the house. 

Yet when I go out, I'm nonetheless apt, initially, to do little more than give the downstream water a brief and passing glance—unless something interesting catches my eye.

Again…why? If the two river views are physically equal, photogenically comparable, and uniform in their potential attraction to wildlife, shouldn't my daily first views be fairly evenly divided?

Having mused over this seeming conundrum a while, I've come to suspect the answer lies tangled somewhere amid a murky mix of history, philosophy, and metaphor.

As a lifelong stream fisherman who's cast his flies and ultralight lures on creeks, rivers, and purling brooks all over North America, and who admittedly seldom met a piece of running water he didn't long to explore—from ultimate merging with other waters to birthing source as a bubbling spring or mountain rill—I've almost always done my angling and investigating in an upstream direction. I'm doubtless programmed by personal history to gravitate to the upstream view.

Philosophically, in spite of my regular whining, I'm more optimist than pessimist, a glass-is-half-full fellow who tries to look ahead. The upstream view is, in physical fact, an early look at whatever is traveling along with the flow. Bobbing and swirling in the eddies. Slowing through the pools. Sparkling as it tumbles and chatters down the riffles. Moving water, heading my way, bringing all sorts of interesting gifts.  

And finally, moving waters all possess an honest and beautiful capacity, metaphorically, for poignantly illustrating and illuminating that restless earthly passage we call our life. I hope a day's first look is made upstream because the joy I find in being blessed with another morning somehow sparks the courage to face my immediate future.                   

Monday, October 6, 2014

FALLING & FLOATING LEAVES

There's an old country saying that "seasons go floating downstream." That's certainly the case for autumn, or at least the early, multicolored leaf portion, as anyone who lives beside a Midwestern creek or river can readily attest.

While our annual patchwork pageantry presentation of changing leaves has only recently begun—I don't expect our local color peak to occur for at least a couple more weeks—many leaves have already done their thing, flown their colors, and subsequently losened their grip on limb and twig. All it takes is a little puff of wind to bring them spinning down…or sometimes no wind at all.

That's now starting to happen here along the river, though the number of leaves on the water varies. Yesterday the channel exiting the pool in front of the cottage was fairly full; today, there's hardly a leaf to be seen. The difference? Wind. Yesterday was gusty, bringing down lots of ready-to-fall leaves. Today is damp, cloudy, but calm…not many leaves are being displaced from the trees.

However, these are early days so far as leaf fall is concerned. In the days and weeks to come, the number of leaves coming down will increase dramatically, until finally almost every tree in the woods and along the banks of the river will be stripped bare. Only the occasional stubborn oak will hang onto their now-brown leaves—many of which will remain on the tree until the start of spring's new growth. 

Of course, not all the leaves from the trees in my yard fall into the river. Not even all the leaves on the dozen or so big sycamores which lean over the dark, moving currents like thoughtful white-robed druids peering into a magic pool. As much as I appreciate the soil-enriching nutrients and moisture-holding fiber of the load after load after load of leaves which we rake up each autumn, heave into the wheelbarrow, and subsequently dump in great heaps onto the compost pile, I wouldn't be upset if a lot more of them took it upon themselves to find their way onto the water instead of my flower beds and struggling lawn. 

Still, I rather enjoy sweeping my way from the front door, across the deck, and along the graveled walkway—if for no other reason than it's good practice for winter's coming snows. Plus there are always countless "found" still life images to possibly photograph, or at least admire momentarily before I sweep them into oblivion. 
  

Friday, October 3, 2014

FIDDLER'S FINALE?

I awakened a bit past 2:00 a.m. this morning. Shoulders and forearms ached, my back throbbed, and my hands were swollen and stiff. All attributable to having spent part of yesterday in the self-abusing joy of maneuvering several ash logs around in order to saw them into 18-inch lengths so they can then be split into proper firewood. Some of these logs are 5 or 6 feet long, better than 20-inches in diameter, and hundreds of pounds in weight; heavy and recalcitrant.

The good news is my snazzy new chainsaw and cant hook both worked like champs, making the task easier—which is not to say easy. The bad news is I barely made a dent in the five truckloads of similar logs the tree-cutter has so far dumped in the parking area—with a sixth load yet to be delivered.

The conclusion I reached amid the pain and darkness was that while I may not survive to see the winter—if I do, I'll be toasty warm all the way to next spring.

After mulling this mixed thought awhile, I got up and shuffled into the front room, figuring to spend the remainder of the night in the recliner. Possibly a less horizontal repositioning would allow sleep. At least I wouldn't disturb Myladylove by tossing and turning. 

First, though, Moon-the-Dog, awakened by the room change and having followed my wandering, let me know she needed to have a few minutes outdoors. I went along.

The sky was overcast, intensifying the darkness. It was surprisingly warm—almost cloying. For a quarter hour I stood quite while Moon snuffled about the yard, stirring through the day's augmentation of new-fallen leaves. Off to my right the river purled softly along. And from all sides, a loud chorus of crickets and katydids, chirruped and whirred, buzzed and clicked. The seldom seen night fiddlers, those singing insects who so audibly define our summer evenings.

Alas, their days are numbered. Local weather forecasts are currently warning that tonight may drop as low as 37˚F. Not quite a killing frost night, but probably cold enough to thin the ranks of these nocturnal musicians. 

I'll miss them. And I can't help but wonder when the end will come for the fine little green meadow katydid I found sitting atop the handle of my mitre-box saw this weekend, and whose portrait heads this post.  

The katydid shot is one of only a few photos I've managed these past several weeks. And I've done even worse writing blog posts. Yet I kept meaning to do both.

Instead, I ("we" really, since the same holds true for Myladylove) have concentrated on trying to get as many "To Do" list tasks completed as possible before foul weather sets in—to the point that every spare minute has been commandeered. And now, of course, there's all that wood!

I may turn green myself…